Rugby Australia has betrayed its own values and decided not to sanction Israel Folau for his homophobic comments.
The 29-year-old Wallabies star sparked controversy last week when he said on Instagram that gay people would go to hell, “unless they repent their sins and turn to God”.
Despite being in violation of Rugby Australia’s policies on inclusion and the use of social media, RA Chief Executive Raelene Castle confirmed on Tuesday that Folau, a devout Christian, will not have to account for his words.
Following a meeting between rugby bosses and Folau, she described the athlete, who had previously expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage, as a “good role model”.
“This is a difficult issue when you think you’re trying to combine religious beliefs, freedom of speech, inclusion, respect and the use of social media,” Castle told journalists.
“When you try and bring all those things together, that’s a very difficult place for this to be, and interestingly, I know there’ll be a lot of other sports out there looking to see how this plays out.
“Israel’s presented his views and beliefs and we’re proud of the fact he’s prepared to stand up for what he believes in. But RA has got a policy of inclusion and using social media with respect.
“Israel has gone away to think about [his social media use], because for him he is proud of what he is and what he stands for, so he wants to make sure that we are not asking him to compromise those beliefs.”
She went on to say that Rugby Australia is in negotiation with Folau to extend his contract, “and we would really like him to stay in rugby, that’s hugely important to us”.
She added: “He is a great player, he has delivered some great outcomes for us and has been a really strong role model in the Pacific Islander community and we would like to see he stays in rugby.”
In a scathing open letter to Folau, a trio of South Pacific human rights activists wrote that Folau had “used God’s words in absentia in order to judge, oppress and vilify the already marginalised Australian and Pasefika LGBTI citizens”.
They added: “That façade you’ve built for years being the ‘gentleman’ and the ‘good guy’ of rugby, that that veneer is now shattered in pieces.”
Alan Joyce, the openly gay CEO of Qantas Airways, which sponsors the Wallabies, is said to have put pressure on RA to take action against Folau, but to no avail.
“We’ve made clear to Rugby Australia that we find the comments very disappointing,” a Qantas spokesman said earlier.